Sunday, September 18, 2011

the Positives of Conference Realignment

Who would've thought it'd be the ACC's ink on the first official realignment contracts? Give 'em credit though, they were apparently just as active as anyone in trying to position and strengthen themselves. In the middle of all this there's been a lot of negativity flying around: reporters who are upset that the focus isn't on the games, columnists who decry the geographical difficulties, and bloggers who a pissed that their beloved tradition is being pushed around.

But there's a lot of good to be seen in all this realignment, and when the dust settles, I think people will find that they like the new face of the sport alot. Here's why -

Fewer cupcake games

It's increasingly looking like we'll end up with the 16-team superconference setup that's been bandied about. Sure the ACC could stop at 14, as could the Pac12 & SEC, but probably not. And as far as scheduling goes, that's a good thing because most likely teams will play 7 teams in their own division, and 2 teams from the other division of their conference, giving us 9 conference games. Most conferences now only play 8, leaving four non-conference games, most of which are cupcakes against non-FBS or non-BCS teams.

If the teams at the top want to separate themselves from the bottom, that's fine - but in pulling away they're going to have to play more big games against each other. Win for us.

Baylor (and some of the other left-behinds) will win more often

Sure when they're playing in the CUSA or MtnWest (or whatever conglomeration end up being formed) they won't bring in as much money or revenue. But playing lesser competition means that they'll probably be able to win more games. It's just like the lower divisions. Appalachian State is 70-14 in the last six seasons - they win. How much does it matter that they play in a lower division?

If it's a money thing, let's face it - Baylor (and the other left-behinds) weren't bringing in their share of the revenue in the first place. That's why they're being left behind. Once they settle into a more appropriate niche, they'll start to have more on-field success.

New, exciting matchups

Admit it - you're curious to see how Nebraska does in the Big10 this year, or how Texas A&M will fare in the SEC West next season. As the teams and conferences get re-organized, we're going to be seeing a lot more of these situations, with teams finding themselves being pitted against teams they'd never play otherwise.

Will we lose some of the more traditional matchups, like Oklahoma-Nebraska? Maybe. But maybe not. Oklahoma-Texas isn't going anywhere, no matter what happens. If it's that important for teams to keep those rivalries intact, they can schedule them as non-conference opponents (which would help cut down on cupcakes, going back to my first point).

Better, more accurate rankings

One of the by-products of higher-caliber games will be that the voters who rank teams will have more relevant information on teams when filling out their sheets, and they should be able to come up with more of a consensus as to what order teams should be in. Should. Not saying it's gonna happen, but it'll be better than trying to tease out how good an offense really is when they've scored 72 against PoDunk U like we have now.

There'll be more money for (almost) everyone

No, not everyone is going to make out like a bandit here. That's not my point. My point, that I've made before and will continue to make, is that while college football rakes in billions of dollars, the schools and the NCAA are not demonic institutions or greedy businesses - at their core they're institutions of higher learning who's missions are to educate people. Their budgets are being slashed right and left, and the cost of providing quality educations is skyrocketing. If these colleges and universities can make some extra money by playing football, I'm all for it. They need the money, and whether you can admit it or not, the majority of the money eventually goes to education. As it should.

We're that much closer to a playoff

This is the big one, and in some ways the most baffling. A lot of the people crying and moaning all these years about how it's a travesty that college football doesn't have a playoff are the same ones now complaining about conference realignment. A playoff is so much closer to happening with this setup, especially if things go down fast and new conferences start playing next season. That leaves plenty of time before the 2014 re-negotiations about the BCS bowls to get some sort of post-season playoff set up.

It's gonna be real messy, but it's happening. The reasons not to are crumbling, and soon will be overshadowed by the money, and at that point we're going to see a whole new college football postseason. There'll be spots for the champions of the superconferences as well as some at-larges, which will be monopolized by the big boys. All of the schools that get excluded (either officially or unofficially) are gonna be pissed, and there'll be fallout, but it'll happen.

Less realignment in the future

It's like tapping down a container so you can fill it fuller - once this upheaval is over, and things settle, the (major) conferences will be extremely stable. We won't have to deal with all of this uncertainty again for a long time. Sure some people point to the old WAC to show that superconferences won't work, but that's not an apt comparison. The old WAC was made of schools that didn't really fit together, didn't have the relationships to make things work, and didn't have the money keep everything running smoothly. That's not going to be the case with these new superconferences. The money will flow, and the cultures at these schools are much closer than they were in the old WAC. It's gonna be fine.

Ironically, we might even focus less on the whole idea of conferences as a measuring stick for individual team achievements. What conference you were affiliated with and how strong that conference was perceived to be has only been of major importance to the public (and voters) for the past four seasons, ever since Florida slammed the door on #1 Ohio State at the end of the 2006 season. It's the easy route, the assumptions that some teams are better than they are and some are worse than they are based on what others in their conference do, whether they're on the schedule or not. With superconferences, some of those assumptions might go away, and we'll be able to focus more on the individual games and teams.

So hang on, it's gonna be a crazy next few days, weeks, and years - enjoy the ride and try to focus on the good stuff. There's gonna be plenty of it!


PeteP said...

I do not think the Super Conference model will be stable long term. Instead, it makes it easier for teams to split off when the opportunity arises (like the WAC-16 and the MWC).

After a few years of the Pac-16, I could see the Pac-8 schools ditching the other 8. After all, most of them still see the Arizona schools as an unnecessary addition....

Morgan Wick said...

More likely than the 8-team division system is the 4-team pod system. Schools like being able to play cupcakes and they will preserve the right to play cupcakes at all costs.

I was a supporter of a 16-team playoff, but now I think the whole playoff debate was a smokescreen for a larger issue: the death of college football as we knew it. I'll have a post on 9/29 about that.

PeteP said...

The Super WAC did have a pod system -- and split the mountain schools into different pods.

One of the prime reasons for the death of the Super WAC was the pod system, rotating between each division.

With BYU and Utah not playing Colorado State and Air Force, it was just too much (among other reasons)...

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